Staff Book Reviews
“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll is a comic book collection of whimsically morbid fairy-tales, each mostly self-contained but serving what I would call an important, human theme: the uncanny waits, and surrounds, especially where you wouldn’t expect it. I love the stark yet evocative art throughout this book, and some of the stories did manage to surprise me. I personally love testaments to the monsters under our beds, particularly those intended for adults, and if you do, too, you may carry something interesting away from this collection. At any rate, the art is gorgeous, feeling “classic” even as it’s so unique.
Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are each AMAZING in DC's just-ended Batman run, starting with "Batman Volume One: The Court of Owls." Seriously, amazing. These books are morbid and playful, working with Batman's psyche and the twisted fairy-tale that is Gotham in a way I think works really, really well. Bruce Wayne feels fully-realized and complicated, as a character, and a great many of the Bat Family get a chance to shine. I personally love Snyder's take on Batman's ensemble of villains, from the Joker (don't worry, he'll show up soon) to the infamous Crazy Quilt (yes, I'm serious.) The "Court of Owls" introduced in this first volume adds yet another layer of rot to this already twisted city, wonderfully developing both the Wayne family history and Gotham as a symbol. I'll leave you with a nursery rhyme repeated throughout the Court of Owls arc, to give you a feel for what sort of story is waiting for you here: "Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time, Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed. Speak not a whispered word of them, or they'll send the Talon for your head." Come on! If that isn't a recipe for fun Batman shenanigans, I don't know what is. :)
Writer Tom King and illustrator Gabriel Hernandez Walta come together to make something really unique and thought-provoking in "The Vision Volume One: Little Worse than a Man." Here, Vision of the Avengers is trying to make a human family for himself, tucked into an unsuspecting suburb in Virginia. He used Wanda Maximoff's brainwaves to build himself a wife (because THAT can't possibly go badly, right?) and has combined their code to form two children, Vin and Viv, who will be learning what it is to be an artificial life even while having to attend public school. Despite this potentially sitcom-esque set up, the Vision family presents readers with a very dark, pensive future indeed, full of melancholic narration that borders on poetry. This series is about identity, and good intentions gone horribly awry, and what it is to be human... More, what it is to crave humanity from the outside, crave it so desperately that you will do monstrous things for its sake. (I know that theme might feel a tad overdone, given how often it appears in stories about robots, but I think this comic handles it in a refreshing way. :D)
Anyhow, some of my friends who don't even like comic books waited eagerly for the monthlies on this series as it was coming out... It's definitely atmospheric, and stirring, and sad, though it also features a cheerful robotic puppy and some tongue in cheek dark humor. It's not a HAPPY comic, but it's a valuable one.
I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.
So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.
Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)
Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.
Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!
To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.
**Spoiler Alert** Let me just say this, don't read this book out loud to your young child. It took forever to get through it and I was so sick and tired of it by the end that it turned into a chore. I didn't really get into it, it just seemed silly to me, but my daughter liked it. A major sticking point for me was the author's failure to explain why the antagonists of the book were actually on the side of the Whangdoodle in the end. Meh.
SPOILER ALERT! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so of course I dug getting to learn more about Harry and his friends. I was very interested in the Scorpius/Albus relationship but hoped there had been a bit more about Scorpius's relationship with his father. I was mildly annoyed that Draco and Harry became friends and even that Draco showed a sensitive side. However, I liked how devoted he was to his son, just like his mother had been so devoted to him. The final chapters with Harry bonding with Albus didn't interest me much either. But still a good read and a great fix for my Harry Potter withdrawals. I would like to see it as a play.
Let it be said, I love Weird Al. I didn't get into his 80s stuff so much as his more recent work. "The Saga Begins" reintroduced me to his work and I happily dove into his back catalog. But, in my opinion, the best thing Al ever did was "White & Nerdy", with "Word Crimes" as a close second. And then there's the understated but totally awesome "Aluminum Foil", which starts out so benign that you start writing it off as a softball and then turns so decidedly weird in the middle that you can't help but say, "Al! You're hilarious!" But this review should really be about the book. It was great. Read it if you want, but far more important is to listen to his music.
If you aren't familiar with Lindy West, she is most famous for being a feminist on the internet... which is a lot harder than it sounds. After writing for The Stranger (Seattle's version of The Independent), Lindy went to work for Jezebel, where she became internet famous for writing about women's issues unapologetically. Because the internet can be a terrible place, and because she is not only a woman, but a fat woman, this led to her getting trolled on an EPIC level. Google "Lindy West trolls" (or, you know, just read this book) and prepare to be horrified. Shrill is the story of how all of it happens.
This was, by far, my favorite non-fiction read of 2016. It definitely blows away any other funny lady memoir I've ever read (and I LOVED Amy Poehler's and Tina Fey's books). West talks about really important issues (body image, puberty, abortion, sex, love, feminism) in a frank but funny tone. I listened to the book with my husband, and the narration (done by West) makes the raw moments more powerful and the funny moments more hilarious - it was spot on. We found ourselves stopping the book every 15 minutes or so to discuss. Lindy takes on rape jokes, fat shaming and internet trolls with a touch of vulnerability and a ton of hilarity, and I DARE you to try to read this book and not learn something about humanity in the process.
Ladies, this is a must read. Men who have ever met a woman, this is a must read. Trolls, THIS IS A MUST READ. As you've likely gathered, I feel that is a must read for pretty much everyone (though there is some "adult" content - see above re: sex, rape jokes, etc). If the best books make you feel something, then this is one of the best books: I laughed, I cried, I raged. 5 unreserved stars. I've already bought a copy for my mother.
After her parents split, Georgia girl Nolie Stanhope finds herself spending her summer in a mysterious town called "Journey's End" in Scotland while her father investigates a mysterious fog (known as The Boundary) that's plagued the local village folk for centuries. Nolie is pretty excited - in addition to some sweet international travel, she's an avid ghost enthusiast, and feels like the summer might be promising in that department. And she is pretty immediately proven right! When Nolie and her new Scottish friend Bel see a weird dude walking down the beach, they think they've seen a ghost. Have they? And why is the Boundary suddenly moving closer to shore?
This was a pretty great MG ghost story. The setting is wonderful - Scotland sort of lends itself to mystery, and Hawkins imbues the village of Journey's End with a ton of charm, personality, and a touch of creepiness. Both of the lead characters, Bel and Nolie, were pretty well fleshed out with distinctive and likable personalities. Their friendship, while quickly formed, was believable and would be a great example for young girls. There's a bit of bullying and some exposition about the effects of divorce, so some important relatable issues are addressed. The Boundary itself is a fantastic and appropriately creepy mystery centerpiece. Really, my only complaint is that there was a ton of build-up to a mystery/ghost story that was pretty quickly and too easily resolved. But I'm a tough customer when it comes to middle grade reads, and overall, this one was pretty great so I'll go with the 4 star rating. I'll definitely be booktalking this one with sixth graders in the fall.
The Rosignol sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, have never been close. Each has learned to survive a traumatic childhood in her own way. On the eve of World War II as Hitler’s forces are invading France, Vianne remains in the family home with her daughter and waits for her husband’s return. Isabelle, young and head-strong, decides to play a more active role in fighting the Nazis. Over the course of five years, both sisters experience the horrors of war, fight for survival, and play a part in saving others. In the process, Vianne and Isabelle find their way back to each other and reconcile their differences. Whether or not you are a fan of historical fiction, you will become deeply involved in the lives of these two sisters. The Nightingale, while sentimental at times, will touch your heart and leave you longing to learn more about these two remarkable women.
Lovely lovely book. I started off reading this to my 6 year old, but it's kinda scary so we stopped. I just had to finish it on my own. I love how the BFG talks and how whimsical the story is as a whole. It's Roald Dahl, what's not to love?
Earlier this year, I read If I Was Your Girl, and it is one of the most timely books I have ever encountered. Meredith Russo’s tale of a young girl moving to a new town is so much more than your standard teen romance.
Amanda just moved to Lambertville, a small Tennessee town where the big events are high school football games and church socials. She’s nervous about getting a fresh start for her senior year of high school, but she quickly makes a handful of friends. However, she’s hiding two big secrets. One, she attempted suicide while she was at her old school. Two, Amanda is transgender. Amanda is not expecting to fall in love, but encountering Grant, a young man with secrets of his own, leaves them both struggling to be honest with each other.
Amanda’s parents are separated, and she moves from a larger city where she lived with her mother to a small town where her father is still coming to terms with his daughter’s identity. If I Was Your Girl tells Amanda’s story almost flawlessly, interweaving flashbacks to her old life and helping the reader understand Amanda’s reasons for transitioning and her acceptance in her new home. Meredith Russo blends some of her own life experiences into Amanda. As readers, we’re shown an incredibly deep look. We see the psychological effects, glimpses into the recovery from the surgical procedures, and her experiences with a local support group prior to the move.
As has been mentioned in many reviews of this book, If I Was Your Girl covers a fairly easy take on transition. Amanda knows from a young age who she is, and has no trouble covering the costs of hormone therapy and various surgeries while she is still young. It’s an idealized version of transition, and it is important to note that this is currently quite rare in reality (I personally was waiting for tragedy to strike throughout my read, because everything seemed to be going too well). This is also noted by the author. “I’m worried that you might take Amanda’s story as gospel, especially since it comes from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be.” However, this does not diminish the importance of a book by a transgender author, starring a transgender character, and featuring a transgender model on the cover in a year when transphobia is at a terrifying high.
All in all, I loved this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a much-needed beacon of hope in what has been a very dark year for LGBT+ folks around the country.
I read this book twice! I made a one-month trip to Japan, and this book had come up when I was looking for guidebooks about Tokyo. Once I started reading, I could read through it in several hours. The author is from France and lived in Tokyo for half a year. He describes what he experienced in colorful illustrations with animated characters. His observations were very keen in details, and location spots marked by the major train routes and police stations will let you know that Tokyo would be a fun and safe (and curious) place to visit. After my trip I checked it out again to assimilate my experiences. It was great to review my memories there. Thank you, author!
I have to admit, I chose to read this book based on the title alone! I liked the title and I loved the book. Classic chick-lit. The main character of the book is the LBD (Little Black Dress) of the season. The dress that every woman, no matter her age or size, wants! The dress affects the lives of not only the nine women, but a few men too! If you are looking for an easy read, this book is for you! It made me laugh and smile. A fun read! I can't wait for Jane L. Rosen's next book.
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore is not a new book (2008), and I found it quite by accident. It was one of those books whose title intrigued me and front cover graphic caught my eye. It looked like a Fannie Flagg book, so it had to be good, right? I was not disappointed.
This is the coming of age story following Catherine Grace Cline, born and raised in a small, rural town in Georgia in the early 1970’s. A spunky kid with a great sense of humor, Catherine Grace spends her Saturdays at the local Dairy Queen, contemplating ways to escape her small-town and move to Atlanta to reinvent herself. When she is old enough, has graduated high school, and with the help of a close buddy, she finally leaves family, friends, and her boyfriend behind and does make it to the big city. She’s in her element now. However, before things really take off in the city, and much to her dismay, she must soon return to the old homestead when tragedy strikes the family. Once back and over time, Catherine Grace comes to realize maybe her small town life is not so bad after all.
Characters in the book bring out the best and worst in Catherine Grace and are vital to the story. They offer words of Southern wisdom to this dreamer and help her through the good times and bad. These characters include a younger sister (Martha Ann), her Baptist preacher father, a once-close friend of her mother’s (Gloria), and her boyfriend (Hank).
If you’re looking for an action-packed, fast moving story, this is not the book for you. Like its Southern setting, this is a story that must be soaked up with leisure while lying on the lawn being warmed by the late afternoon sun with a glass of wine in hand. Enjoy!
This is an epic love story that spans, not only generations in Australia, but follows them around the world. Yes, it was made into a mini-series in the 1983 (worth watching), but you would be doing yourself a disservice if that is your only exposure to The Thorn Birds.
This is another telling of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". This story follows the trails and tribulations of the famed courtship from the point of view of Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam. Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" will enjoy receiving more insight into the classic romance.
At only a smidgen under two-hundred pages, this book appeared to be a concise and quick read. Surprisingly, my experience was quite the opposite. The War of The Worlds presents a typical scenario that many novels have sadly claimed. The initial third is gripping and chocked full of descriptors and entertainment; the second third is nearly pointless to the main plot; the concluding third wraps the story up, leaving enough aspects unresolved for the imagination to expand upon, but doesn't carry on the initial third's promise. Thus, leaving the reader confused and with a feeling of wasted time.
After reading the beginning chapters a sense of urgency becomes the overlying theme. Peril soon engulfs the novel's setting as its characters realize the grave situation. The Author takes his time here by writing pages of description to meticulously set the scene. The story progresses to a small climax at the end of this third, which casts a shadow of high expectation on the other two thirds. This initial third is a marvel of a opener that brings honor to the class of classic English-literature.
If paper could speak to its reader it'd ask that they'd grip their new-found excitement and trudge through the muck. The majority of this third's viewpoint comes from that of a flat secondary-character with little importance to the story. This characters presence only delayed the objectives that the first chapter created. Their travels were hectic; slightly smile inducing at times. Taking this character shift seriously was difficult as the pages grew thinner and crucial answers were yet to be disclosed. The author even goes as far as giving a figurative apology for sidetracking the reader at this third's close; H. G. Wells' canny sense of humor makes an unexpected appearance here.
After hope for the story as-a-whole was drained, Wells restored the glorious successes of the initial third, but not fully. Excitement and intensity were brought back as the conclusion drew nearer. The story abruptly shifted to the round, main-character, again; swapping character who're in different settings is usually abrupt, so this isn't a true issue. This character goes on to see the conclusion, which wraps up most of the events and questions that the previous content created.
I didn't find this novel to be terrible or great. It proved to me that it's a mediocre work glossed with wild literary technique and vocabulary. Wells' persistence use of over description dimmed the natural flow and appeal of his writing. There's little reason to use half a page or more to describe minute details. It would have been better if he spent the time to detail the larger picture, rather than tiny scenes. Character development was superb at first, but fell flat due to the second third's character shift. If the second third was omitted in its entirety and, then rewritten without the secondary-character's perspective the novel would be vastly improved. Wells wasn't an illiterate fellow with corn for brains. His derailing of the story added multiple perspectives and was most likely an attempt to add another dynamic. The incessant over-descripting showcased his incredible vocabulary while portraying him as an over confident writer. Paying closer attention to the plot and character development will lead to a better story than any amount of impressive vocabulary ever could. It's clear that H. G. Wells is a gifted and skilled writer, but this certainly isn't a jewel.
Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a hybrid human/monster called an "Arcanic", as she tries to free fellow Arcanics from human cruelty and avenge her mother's death at the hands of a powerful group of human witches. Oh yeah, and Maika herself keeps turning (at least partially) into an old-world style monster that kills almost everything in its sight, regardless of whether they are friend and foe. As we follow Maika in her quest for revenge, we get flashbacks that inform us of her motivations and murky past.
This was definitely one of my favorite graphic novels of the year.
Maika is a layered anti-hero with a disability (she's missing an arm). I liked her more and more the more I learned about her. She's not shy about killing people, though, hence the anti-hero label. In fact, she's probably more of a villain than an anti-hero, but that really only added to the story for me. I mean, this title earns its "M" rating. It's very very bloody. Maika does not do nice things to her enemies.
The art was GORGEOUS. SO PRETTY. I'm fairly new to graphic novels, but this just might be the best art that I've seen. The cover is actually relatively simple compared to the insanely intricate steampunk/art deco panels on the inside. Art lovers, check this book out for the artwork alone (but be prepared for a rather gory experience).
So even though I very obviously loved this title, it was not perfect. Like in many graphic novels, there is little by way of introduction to the characters, and you are just thrown right into the story with background info being filled in later. Because the world-building was so complex, I found myself having to read certain parts several times (or having to revisit prior pages/storylines). This could just be a me thing because I have this problem in a lot of graphic novels, but I also found some of the action scenes to be incomprehensible.
I can't believe I almost forgot this amazing detail, but there are talking cats. You know what makes almost every story better? A talking cat.
This was definitely an excellent read. Graphic novel fantasy lovers, you would be remiss to not check this book out (but stay away if you don't like blood). 4 stars.